A Second Chance: Mike Pauley returns to coaching after a fight against Lyme disease

Published 1:49 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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When LaGrange High athletic director Mike Pauley was looking for a new girls basketball coach, it did not take him long to figure out the best person for the position: himself. Pauley stepped away from coaching in 2015 when he took over as the athletic director at LaGrange but always felt a calling to return to the sidelines and now he is doing just that.

This second chance at coaching was almost not to be. Pauley has suffered from Lyme disease and spotted fever for the last two years and has only recently returned to a healthy state.

“Last season, I helped train the ninth grade JV kids during the year and when I walked into the gym, I told them who I was and I told them rule no. 1 was do not throw me a basketball,” Pauley said, “I couldn’t catch it. I told them to bounce or roll me a ball because they could hurt me.”

A once extremely athletic individual who played football, baseball, wrestler and ran cross country at LaGrange High before becoming a cheerleader at Auburn University was reduced at times to his most basic instinct: survive. 

While his body withered away, his mind remained as sharp as ever. Those that know Pauley, know he attacks everyday with a ruthless enthusiasm, quick to make a joke, flash a winning smile and of course, let out of those deep throated laughs that is easily recognizable for all those that have shared a laugh with him.

Pauley is not the type to go gently into the night, he is a fighter, and he did just that over the last two years.

The desire to return to the sidelines was there long before he became ill, but it only intensified during that period of his life.

“My body was in bad shape during that time and I needed a push to get back into coaching again and (current LaGrange boys coach) Mark Veal gave me that push,” Pauley said. “That encouragement became empowering, and I began to realize that I had a lot left to offer the kids.”

The opportunity to be the girls head coach at LaGrange feels like a full circle moment for Pauley as he winds down his career as a coach. Pauley got his first start as a graduate assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at the University of Auburn in 1988. After a short stop as an assistant at the University of Florida, Pauley returned to LaGrange to take a job as an assistant coach with the intent on taking over the girls head coaching job when it became available. Instead, a year later the boys head coaching job came open, and Pauley served in that role for two decades.

Pauley also served as head coach and co-head coach of the girls basketball team from 2004 to 2008, and now he gets a second chance as the girls coach.

Pauley’s life is not defined by second chances; second chances as coach, second chances at life and even a second chance as athletic director. Pauley was originally passed over for the role  in 2015 when the then principal went with another candidate. The athletic director lasted all of a week before deciding the job was not for him and once again Pauley got a second chance, taking the job and maintaining the extremely high level of athletics at the school.

Few if any individuals in the Troup County community have directly impacted the amount of young people in a positive manner as he has. Thousands of young people have been directly impacted by Pauley over the years, and it is a huge responsibility that Pauley feels.

“It is not about an ego trip, it is about realizing that you can have a big impact on these kids,” Pauley said. “It is a lot of responsibility and something my coaching staff, and I don’t take lightly.”

Pauley’s key to being a successful coach: communication. He has already started a line of communication with his top returning players and coaches as he looks to rebuild the girls program back to its former prominence. 

“We are going to work to improve the basic fundamentals of the game,” Pauley said. “We better show some improvement this year, or it won’t be good basketball. It is going to take time, but we lost four or five games last season right there at the end and if we can win those games we can get back closer to a .500 team this season.”

While his first game back is still over six months away, he has already put on the sweats, the whistle and ran four-on-one workouts. It has been a long time coming for Pauley, who has missed everything about being on the sideline.

“Where I feel led by the Lord is to build community through sport and team,” Pauley said. “That is what I feel led to do.”